5 Types of Internet Services: Cable, DSL, Fiber, and More

Knowing the best types of internet services can save you time when shopping. Internet service types vary heavily depending on speed, reliability, and availability. So if you are shopping for internet, this article will help you differentiate between different internet services. 

What are the 5 types of internet services?

All types of internet service providers offer these basic forms of internet:

  • Fiber-optic 
  • Cable 
  • DSL (Direct Service Line)
  • Satellite
  • Fixed wireless

You might say that there are other types of connective services like 5G or wireless. However, 5G is specific to phone service providers, while wireless internet is an aspect of the five primary forms above. 

You might also be aware of dial-up internet. But because modern internet demands go beyond what dial-up can offer, it isn’t readily available. This is probably for the best, as hearing your modem scream while connecting isn’t great. 

How do these 5 types of internet services differ? 

Below, we will go through a breakdown of each service. This starts with the most desirable type of internet: fiber. 

Fiber-optic internet

Fiber-optic internet is the best-known modern form of internet. The connection type uses specialized cords using lights to communicate. So it is unique in that it requires entirely new connections.

Companies that support fiber-optics often limit their services to large cities. Fiber might only be available in a few locations, even within those cities. However, the push for better broadband connections is clear, as they reached a threshold of over 54 million homes two years ago. 

The best fiber-optic providers focus on speed. Popular gigabyte internet speeds are pretty standard among fiber providers. However, you might find some providers that start at 300 Mbps, which is still very fast. Larger companies like Comcast (known for Xfinity) have seen fiber speeds up to 10 Gigs

Because it uses the latest technology, fiber is pretty reliable. However, the stability of connections can be just as good as both cable and DSL. 

Good fiber providers you can pick

Cable internet 

Cable internet providers have been around for quite a while. As the next best step of DSL, cable provides high-speed internet at affordable rates. Cable provides the perfect balance of speed and availability.

Cable has widespread availability because it relies on pre-existing television lines. Because there was a time when television dominated households, this cable type is everywhere. Cable internet is just an alternative use. 

As cable internet relies on a different frequency than cable television, you can run both connections simultaneously. You just might need a cable splitter to divide connections. But, the cost of splitters is comparable to a more expensive Starbucks coffee.

Cable speeds are about average, often maximizing at about 300 Mbps. This is why cable internet providers often have massive jumps between figures. Once you exceed 300, you get into the fiber-optic territory. 

You can also expect decent reliability from cable internet. This reliability is no different from fiber or DSL, which often rely on the neighborhood. Older neighborhoods or clustered living situations often need a cable refresh, which you can handle by calling your provider’s customer service line.

Best cable internet providers 

DSL internet

What is DSL internet? The short answer: slower internet that is only considered usable in rural locations. The long answer is a bit more tricky.

Direct Service Line (DSL) internet service uses specific frequency bands on old-fashioned copper wire. Typically, companies use this wire for telephone services. However, it differs from dial-up by allowing for different frequencies depending on communication. Like cable internet, you can make a call while using the internet simultaneously.

Unlike cable internet, DSL isn’t known for being particularly fast. Most DSL speeds cannot exceed 100 Mbps. Most times, you won’t see those speeds go above 25 Mbps.

However, G.fast presents a potential exception to this rule, showing DSL speeds up to one gig. These speeds cannot maintain beyond 100 meters for now. However, this could potentially throw off fiber’s attempts to expand into new markets.

Because DSL exists wherever there are phone lines, you can get it almost anywhere. It is also reasonably reliable but suffers from age-related issues (like older neighborhoods and cable).

The best DSL internet service providers are typically simple, cheap, and available.

Good DSL internet providers   

Satellite internet

In cases where your home is a bit further from civilization, you might not have a phone line. In these cases, you have one of two options. Satellite internet is one of those two options. 

Is satellite internet any good? Given that competition is limited between two providers, things could be worse. Both HughesNet and ViaSat consistently compete for the top slot. 

The two companies use similar technologies, placing a satellite dish that connects to the internet through means outside of our atmosphere. The space-bound satellites are impressive technology. But there are some limitations.

Satellite has the potential to get up to 200 Mbps. However, most providers average at about 25 Mbps, as faster speeds are more expensive. The rural customers who use this internet often don’t spend a lot of time sitting down, as they might own farmhouses. 

Satellite internet is relatively reliable as well. All you need is access to a clear sky, and you have a persistent internet connection. When your connection source is in space, that’s not bad. As you might imagine, stormy weather is the natural enemy of the satellite provider. 

In cases where there are no alternatives, satellite internet is good. In some cases, speeds can compete with DSL. However, you’ll likely prefer any form of wired connection over satellite if possible.

Satellite providers you should consider

Fixed wireless internet 

When you think of “wireless,” you might think of 5G and cell towers. But this is only half the reality; the other half comes from fixed wireless internet. Much like satellite, it is available almost anywhere. 

Fixed wireless is the second “only option” for customers who live with no physical lines. So if you have no phone or cable line, you can use radio waves. You just need to install a directional antenna where you might put a satellite. 

In practice, fixed wireless internet is identical to satellite internet. The two use distance communications, but fixed wireless providers make use of an existing network. The creative use of radio waves is distinct from needing to communicate with an orbiting satellite. 

Fixed wireless connections have greater speed potential because you don’t need to bounce a signal off of space. However, most providers stick to the lower speeds at 25 Mbps. It saves on costs and meets the needs of most customers.

Fixed wireless also suffers from many of the same problems that satellite providers do. The threat of inclement weather is a factor you need to consider. This is the risk that comes with having no physical lines.

Fixed wireless is one of the most widespread types of internet services available. So if you struggle getting internet usually, this is your solution.

Different fixed wireless providers

Best types of internet services for your needs

Because “best” is someone generic, it’s essential to look toward your needs. In this case, you need to look towards three areas:

  • Fast
  • Reliable
  • Available

The types of internet service providers you work with meet all three in a perfect world. This is more likely in places with large populations but not impossible for rural customers. 

Here’s a breakdown of where each service type excels:

The fastest internet speeds: fiber optic

Fiber-optic has the fastest overall internet speeds. Typically, the slowest fiber plans match the most rapid cable plans, sitting at a minimum of 300 Mbps. 

Fiber often starts at 500 Mbps, 200 above the next best speed cable can offer. While G.fast might give fiber something to think about in the future, that’s the future. For now, fiber offers the best speed profile of the available options. 

The most reliable internet service: DSL and cable

Fiber might offer fast internet speeds, but it comes at a price. The most well-known price is that fiber is only available in major cities. However, fiber is also more prone to errors, as excessive bending can cause broken cables.

When the protective cladding layer of fiber wears out, signals are leaked and broken. But DSL and cable rely on older forms of cable. Given these cables are meant to bend, you can expect more flexibility.

There are cable and DSL lines in many towns and cities that have been there for literal decades. Many of them still work, meeting the needs that come with a 25 Mbps connection. Given the design and tech behind these cables remain consistent, there is less need for a technician. 

When you are looking for long-term consistency, both DSL and cable have stood the test of time. The proof can be found in old neighborhoods.

The most available internet service: satellite and fixed wireless

The headache of moving between locations and getting new internet service can be annoying. This means you have to re-educate yourself on the different types of internet services. But if you want to do that rarely, you should rely on fixed wireless and satellite services.

Because both of these rely on available radio signals and satellite signals, it is impossible to escape these types of internet connections. A digital subscriber can often choose to keep these types of internet service providers for a lifetime. Some providers are aware of this, so they offer lifetime discounts. 

Focusing on reliability does sacrifice some reliability and speed. So while online gaming isn’t an option, you can still use some streaming services. Netflix only has a 5 Mbps download speed requirement. 

Other types of internet services 

Beyond the big five above, there are other internet services worth noting. These are either not given by internet providers, out-of-date, or use the service types above. Here’s a shortlist:

  • Dial-up internet was popular in the early 90s when “Kbps” was an acceptable internet speed. Kilobytes are one speed lower than megabytes. It used the phone line but couldn’t be used while someone was calling. So given the annoyance, you can imagine why people don’t use it.
  • Broadband over Powerline (BPL) uses existing power lines to handle internet connections. Much like DSL or cable, it made use of existing utilities. It is not in use because it might have a negative effect on military radio communications
  • The 5G internet revolution is here. However, most internet service providers do not host it. Instead, it is most notable with phone companies like T-Mobile. It also focuses on raising minimum connection speeds, making it a lousy alternative to the internet.  

Conclusion - what is the best internet for my needs? 

When looking at the different types of internet services, it can be hard to determine the best combination. To reduce the search time under the “find internet near me” search, use InternetAdvisor’s tools. You can find fast, available, and reliable internet providers near you by entering a zip code.

Internet types - FAQs

What is a broadband connection?

Broadband connections include all forms of the internet. This includes DSL, cable, fiber, satellite, and fixed wireless. Anything considered high-speed (above 25 Mbps) is broadband. 

Does 5G count as mobile internet?

Yes, 5G internet is something you can get. Companies like T-Mobile allow you to get these routers. Mobile internet providers offer speeds from 25 to 200 Mbps, so they are not ideal if you need specific speeds.

What’s the best internet type for working from home?

If you work from home, the best internet type is usually fiber. However, cable can be just as good, provided you choose higher speeds. The minimum home office speed is usually 100 Mbps.

InternetAdvisor Team

We are passionate about aggregating large, accurate data sets and providing it all to our users in an easy-to-use format. Simply put, shopping is easier for the consumer when he/she knows all available options. We are not beholden to any single provider and therefore are dedicated to transparency and giving you unbiased information on all providers.

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